Life After Fossil Fuels:

16 05 2021

A Reality Check on Alternative Energy

Alice J. Friedemann | May 11, 2021 | 5 Comments

Preface to “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy”.

You can find the book here.

Fellow shareholders in the future of the planet Earth, I am not going to sugarcoat it.  We have trouble ahead.  In this book, we are going to be looking at the outlook for substitute, alternative energy resources come the day that fossil fuels decline. This is not going to be a quarterly report where we look ahead three months. Rather, we are going to be peering through the proper end of the telescope, focusing on the viability of energy alternatives for t

Humanity has made inconceivable progress in the past 500 years. Books once were created one at a time by hand. The printing press opened a door to a revolution of knowledge. Cement and steel created the foundations of modern civilization. Wooden ships have been replaced by container ships that cross the oceans bringing fish from Chile, wines from France, automobiles from Japan, and everything from China. In 1869, the first transcontinental railroad crossed America, and 100 years later, the first human stepped foot on the moon.

Imagination and invention are the sparks that illumined this path. We humans can pat ourselves on the back for that. Ah, didn’t that feel good!  Yet all the while, our progress was fueled and enabled by something not of our own making, fossil fuels.  From the Industrial Revolution, fired by coal, to today’s global technology society, fossil fuels have been the indispensable element.  Economies are about work, and one barrel of oil does the work a strong human can do in four and a half years.

Today, most of humanity realizes that progress and the planet itself is threatened by climate change. Climate change is finally front-page news and it is said to be the main threat facing humanity. It is and will continue to be catastrophic, affecting us for many centuries, if not millennia to come.

Climate change is an existential threat.  Agreed.  Yet I believe that we are ignoring an even greater threat, one that is not front and center. This book makes the case that the deadliest crisis facing our civilization is energy decline. Peak oil production may have already occurred. If that is true, then society should be working hard, in fact should be on a war footing, to prepare for life without plentiful, affordable fossil fuels.

Energy usage and climate change are joined at the hip.  Many means are being developed to cut carbon emissions including enhancing the energy efficiency of buildings, fleets of electric cars, deploying millions of solar panels and wind turbines, and carbon sequestration.  Maybe not in the short run, but ultimately, energy decline will mitigate climate change more than all of these approaches. As oil, coal, and natural gas inevitably decline, carbon emissions will be dramatically reduced.

This book was inspired by my book on transportation, “When Trucks Stop Running, Energy and the Future of Transportation” (Friedemann 2016).  Leveraging this research, here I widen my focus and examine our broader dependence on fossil fuels, not just for transportation, but also for manufacturing, agriculture, and industry.  The book devotes significant attention to farming and what will be possible absent affordable fossil fuels. My 2017 essay, “Peak Soil” (Friedemann 2017) at my blog, previewed the importance and neglect of farmland soils, a landscape that is more fully explored here.

Though they are ubiquitous in our lives, for the most part, we take fossil fuels for granted. Conventional economics pays little attention to this indispensable component because it is relatively inexpensive – which of course is why it is so valuable. This book remedies that, examining the critical sectors of our society that rely on fossil fuels, and soberly assesses the scores of alternative energy options under development.  Which alternatives have promise? What are the challenges to making them commercial?  Which alternatives are mere wishful thinking?  After the last page has been turned, you will have in hand a reality check on where our energy will come from in the future and the sustainability of our way of life.


Friedemann AJ (2016) When Trucks Stop Running, Energy and the Future of Transportation. Springer.

Friedemann AJ (2017) Peak soil: Industrial agriculture destroys ecosystems and civilizations. Biofuels make it worse. Accessed 18 Nov 2020

Alice J. Friedemann is the creator of Ms. Friedemann is perhaps best known for her book “When Trucks Stop Running – Energy and the Future of Transportation” published by Springer, and “Peak Soil“, which was edited by David Pimentel at Cornell, Tad Patzek at U.C. Berkeley, and Walter Youngquist (author of “Geodestinies”).

You can find her book here: Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy”.



6 responses

16 05 2021
Hugh Spencer

The tragedy is that it seems she got Springer as the publisher – so the cost of the book (and the e-book) makes it out of reach of those who should really read it. Sad.

16 05 2021

At least it’s not Amazon….

16 05 2021

Ask your library to buy it in. They usually do.

16 05 2021
don james owers

fossil fuels won’t run out before global warming makes life impossible, they will just get dirtier and more expensive

16 05 2021

I’ve found myself wondering which will cause widespread food shortages and starvation first – climate change or energy depletion. I guess the answer might depend on where in the world one lives.

16 05 2021

If one lives in Oz I suspect it might come from energy scarcity as nations fight it out over food – China, but there are several other contenders, of course. A good read is Julian Cribb’s ‘Food or War’, though he doesn’t seem aware of FF depletion.

Of course, if Oz’s access to energy is cut off, we’ll starve in a very short time.

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